Vinny Perth celebrates his birthday this Friday and the whole of Dundalk will be hoping his present is a passage through to the Champions League third qualifying round.
After last week’s gutsy 1-1 draw with Qarabag at Oriel Park, the Lilywhites departed for Baku yesterday morning ahead of Wednesday’s second leg against Qarabag in the Dalga Arena.
Perth has previous when it comes to big birthday wins. He turned 40 on the night that Dundalk claimed arguably their biggest win in Europe when they beat BATE Borisov 3-0 at this stage in Tallaght Stadium three years ago.
While he would love a repeat of that, he feels a win in Baku would only equal it rather than surpass it.
“My birthday fell on the BATE Borisov game but I wouldn’t be the type of person who celebrates them,” he said.
“I’m not even allowed to do a birthday at home. It’s not a big deal to me.
“It’s not really about me. I think this group deserve something more. They’ve done enough to get to the next stage and hopefully the next stage is another big European night.
“We’re obviously going up the levels but I believe someone in this group has a big European moment in them and that can change the tie back in our favour.
“I don’t think it would be any bigger than BATE. The difference now is that there’s four rounds to get to a group stage now and it used to be three so this is the type of team we could have had in a play-off for the likes of the Europa League. It’s more difficult to get to the group stages now for an Irish side but I don’t think it’s necessarily bigger.
“I think it would be in an equal setting in terms of the BATE one,” he said.
While Dundalk had chances to win last week’s first leg late on, Perth is happy to be travelling to Azerbaijan with the tie still up for grabs.
“In the first half we didn’t play well. The goal set us back and it put us on the back foot.
“I don’t think it was necessarily because they were brilliant. I think it was down to us not clearing our heads quick enough. It’s something we’ve worked on over the year but we were able to remind them of that at half-time and to be fair to them they fixed it in the second half.
“I think we’re in the tie and that’s all we could have asked for before the game.”
Dundalk were dealt a blow in the first leg when Robbie Benson suffered a rib injury which has ruled him out of Wednesday’s game but Perth is confident his side can cope without the midfielder.
“No matter who plays we’ve got real strength and depth in the team. We obviously would have liked to have Robbie available but in terms of everybody else we’re in full health.”
It was a good weekend for Dundalk who beat St Patrick’s Athletic 1-0 on Saturday before seeing Shamrock Rovers slip up 24 hours later when they were held 1-1 away to Cork City. Despite those results, which left Dundalk seven points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand still to play, Perth said he is only focused on his side.
“We’re obviously happy with the weekend but we do genuinely only focus on ourselves. I was actually for the first time all year out hitting golf balls so I wasn’t following the other game. We can only focus on ourselves and we still have a lot of work to do.
“Domestically it is a really difficult league. Away to Pat’s was a really difficult game for us and to be fair our players stood up to the test. Between European games there’s always the possibility of dropping points but we stood strong over the weekend and did our business right.”
This Saturday’s scheduled match away to Sligo Rovers and the EA Sports Cup semi-final at home to Bohemians on Monday have both been called off and Perth said that was a welcome development.
“I think it was imperative,” he said.
“You have to play league games but you can’t come home after a six or seven hour flight from Baku, get ready for another flight and play a league game away to Sligo in the middle of that. It just wasn’t feasible.
“It’s harsh on Sligo. Obviously they need games and the league needs games but I think if it was the other way around I’d be very understanding towards any other team in Europe. As a league we’re judged on what we do in Europe by a lot of the neutrals so I think it’s important that we help each other to a point but at the same time we’ve got to play league games and respect our league first and foremost and I think we did that on Saturday,” he said.